Rachel Stubbs

I read somewhere recently about a lawyer who referred to himself as a ‘recovering family lawyer’. After practicing family law for close to 20 years, I get it. Prior to the last twelve months, I have devoted extraordinary amounts of energy into trying to help people navigate their way through the unwieldy, highly unsatisfying process that is the family law system in Australia. Clients are often bitter, angry, and emotionally exhausted before they even start the process.

The system then often seems to encourage and foster and worsen that bitterness and anger by pitching the parties against each other using their lawyer’s skills to fire off correspondence and affidavits which at best do little to resolve the issues at hand and at worst, foster further anger and hurt than what was already there. Rare is the affidavit that actually points out the other party’s good points. It is no wonder that the parties bear more animosity towards each other after reading each other’s affidavit and battling it out in court than they did before. That’s before you even look at the impact the state of the parties’ relationship has on their children.

The court proceedings drag on and on. The parties spend more and more money, in the vague hope that the judge might, at the end of this whole nightmare, see things their way and put the other side back in their place. So often, the judge ends up giving the parties something in between what they are each seeking, and both parties walk away wholly dissatisfied with the process.

I don’t believe this is because the judge did a bad job, or that either lawyer did a bad job. It’s just that if you want to turn a bad relationship into a worse one, the family court system will generally do just that. Pinning your hopes on an outcome that then never eventuates just makes things worse.

I often read views from members of the public, saying that the whole system needs to operate differently, and I do agree, however as yet, no one’s come up with a better model, and so the system continues substantially as it always has. Delays are extensive. Legal proceedings can become exorbitantly expensive. People are in the system sometimes for years. It’s a system I can’t defend and it’s been a long time since I tried. Instead, for many years, I’ve tried to persuade clients not to go into the system. To try to work things out. To say that going through the court process is not going to get them a great decision, only one that they and their ex couldn’t reach themselves. At times, my comments have resulted in clients seeking advice elsewhere, and I’m told “It just doesn’t seem like you’re on my side”. There’s plenty of lawyers happy to just take the client’s money, and pursue, mindlessly and relentlessly the client’s agenda, without trying to act as a stop gap or reality test expectations, so I’ve no doubt these clients have found a lawyer they thought was on their side. I do wonder however how their cases ended up and whether or not they got what they wanted. I doubt it.

So I found myself in a position where I could not, with any integrity, continue to commit myself wholeheartedly to a system I don’t believe works.

I have however found a way to keep being a lawyer, but in a way that is genuinely helpful and productive for people. These days, mostly all I do is consent, solution based work. There are lots of people who need consent orders, even though they’ve reached an agreement with their ex that they’re happy they’ll both follow. I help them by drafting up their consent orders. I do it quickly and I do it well. I guarantee a price, which is the same for everyone, so everyone knows what to expect. I also do other legal things that I believe are helpful to people, like their divorces, wills and transfers of real estate. The sorts of things that enable people to quickly get on with their lives, not which see them living in limbo for months and sometimes years.
I now get to provide people with positive outcomes. I speak to both parties and our discussions are courteous and productive.
I believe that the family court system needs a massive overhaul. I don’t have a solution, but until someone comes up with one, I’m happy doing what I’m doing and I believe I do it well. My clients walk away happy.

In terms of the boring bits, I’ve been practicing since October, 2000. I’ve run a fairly large family law practice with up to 29 staff. I’m an accredited specialist in family law in both Queensland and New South Wales, where I practiced previously, and I’m a qualified family dispute resolution practitioner. I’m a member of the Queensland Law Society and the Law Council of Australia. I balance practicing family law with spending time with family and friends, and competing in sporting events such as triathlons and cycle events. One day, I’m going to ride my bike across America, just because I think I can.